Back From Vacation (and Thoughts on Disney World)

Hi, everyone! I am glad to be back, and even gladder that I scheduled a few “recuperation days” after my travel; I was supposed to get back to Cedar Rapids on Monday evening, but thanks to flight delays didn’t end up getting back until Tuesday afternoon, which meant I had two days in a row of not-enough-sleep and too-much-airport (plus jet lag).

It took me until Thursday to feel well-rested again, at which point I spent half the day cleaning out my inboxes and processing all of the work-related stuff that had arrived or accumulated during my absence.

That meant I was ready to start officially working again on Friday — which is to say, today.

But enough about all of that. HOW WAS THE TRIP, NICOLE?

Here are a few photographs to sum it up:

The requisite Disney PhotoPass “glamour shot.” I actually got a bunch of PhotoPass pictures at various locations but only paid for this one; the other photographers didn’t pose me first and the photos didn’t look as polished.
I tried a character breakfast this time around, after being way too nervous to approach characters on previous Disney adventures. The characters play to type, which means that Mary Poppins gave me a lecture and Pooh gave me a hug.
The food was… not as great as all those Instagrammers made it out to be. It was fine, but nothing I’d call “outstanding.” (Think Applebees, or a college cafeteria.) It photographs extremely well, though.

Since I am all about transparency — though I understand that making this kind of statement is a total “your privilege is showing” move — I’ll tell you that I like Disneyland a lot more than Walt Disney World.

That is, I came back from this vacation thinking “well, I don’t ever need to go back here again.”

This isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy myself. I did! There were a handful of truly magical moments, nearly all of which took place around 7 a.m. before the parks got both incredibly crowded and incredibly hot.

But it was a completely different experience than my previous Disneyland trips, and I wasn’t expecting that.

I thought it would be, like, visiting this place I loved, only now it’s larger and has more stuff to do.

It was more like this place is so big that we can’t do everything and we’ve spent so much money that we won’t be able to come back for a while and it’s so hot and the lines are so long and everything is a disappointing compromise and I didn’t want our vacation to be this way.

And this, by the way, wasn’t even what I was thinking. It’s what half the people around me were saying out loud, as we moved slowly through the crowded streets or inched forward in the standby lines.

I was thinking this place is fascinating and people are fascinating and I probably shouldn’t be listening to their conversations so closely but I don’t care and it is so hot I am sweating in places that I didn’t know had sweat glands.

I love the whole Disney immersive crafted experience thing, which is one of the reasons I’ve been to Disneyland multiple times as an adult and am still planning on visiting every Disney park in the world.

But when you enter Disneyland, the courtyards are open, spacious, inviting you to explore. There’s just enough to do that you can do everything in two days, with enough time for an afternoon nap.

When you enter the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, you get shunted down a path, with fewer open spaces. There’s so much to do that you’ll never do it all; thanks to the crowds and the FastPass system, you have to make choices about what you’ll give up before you even arrive.

And, honestly, I loved that part of Disney World — the big exciting spreadsheetable project, making plans about what to do and where to eat and how much to spend, but that’s because I assumed it would stop feeling like a project after I got there.

It doesn’t.

Now I’ll tell you about some of the magical moments.

The resort was outstanding. Port Orleans Riverside was beautiful, the nature trails were beautifully relaxing, and I saw magnolia trees for the first time.

Like many other people, I was completely blown away by Animal Kingdom’s Pandora section and the entire Flight of Passage experience, which included a 90-minute queue. There was so much to look at, with so much detail, that I never felt bored or impatient. Nor was I tempted to play with my phone (that was one of the best parts of the trip, by the way; staying off my phone).

My favorite part, however, was Extra Magic Hour at Hollywood Studios. I went in ready to rope drop Tower of Terror, since I wanted to get over my fear of falling 13 stories as quickly as possible, but the ride was shut down for the entire day. Slinky Dog Dash was also shut down that morning, which meant the lines for Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith and Toy Story Midway Mania were well over an hour long. (Only the big headliner rides are open during Extra Magic Hour, and the Disney sites claim that if you’re quick enough, you can do all of them. This was never the case in reality.)

So while everyone else was waiting in line, I went in the other direction and began exploring the park. Like, “get up close, read the fine print on the MuppetVision 3D signage” exploring. I looked up, to see the jokes and references Disney placed at the tops of the buildings; I spent time examining structures that I might otherwise rush by. There was something magical or unexpected or humorous everywhere I looked, until Extra Magic Hour was over and the park got too crowded to stand still and look carefully at anything anymore.

That’s one of the reasons why I like going to Disney alone. If I’d gone with a group of people, we’d probably have queued for Midway Mania instead.

That said, the next time I go to Disneyland — and I will go back to Disneyland, though I’m somewhat ambivalent about returning to Disney World — I’d like to go with family or friends.

I’ve experienced the magic for myself. Now it’s time to share it. ❤️

NEXT WEEK: how much I spent, plus some of those spreadsheets y’all asked for.

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Pre-Vacation Update

I’m going on vacation TOMORROW, y’all.

Six days at Walt Disney World, six days in Portland, Oregon to celebrate my grandfather’s 90th birthday, and three days of post-travel recovery (resting, restocking groceries, getting over any crud I might catch along the way) at home.

I gave myself the three extra days first because I subscribe to Kelly Conaboy’s It Should Be Vacation + One Or Two Days theory — “after you return from vacation you should have a mandatory one- or two-day period to readjust before you go back to normal life” — and second because I told myself that the one thing I was going to do in 2019 was take two consecutive weeks off.*

(I have not done this in forever. My last vacation was four days long.)

I will not be posting on vacation, so here are some updates before I leave:

  • I went through and blocked out the rest of NEXT BOOK’s plot using the technique I showed you last week, which means I know where I’m going with the draft and all I have to do is use Jami Attenberg’s 1000 Words of Summer (write 1000 words every day between June 17 and July 1) as motivation to finish it up.
  • I also gave NEXT BOOK a title: A COINCIDENCE OF DOORS. I am fighting very hard against the impulse to make the cover look like a door that you open to read the book, because that is not the Trend For Covers These Days and I know I need to put a Dreaming Woman on the front. (I wonder how much it would cost to do one of those covers where it looks like a door with a cutout keyhole that you can see through and then when you open the door you can see the full-color illustration of what’s behind the keyhole. This is also not On Trend, but it would be super-cool.)
  • I’m also fighting very hard against the whole “what if I was able to get this book self-published this year” thing. I want this book to be THE BEST IT CAN BE, not THE FASTEST IT CAN BE. (I’m also thinking about how much money I’m willing to put towards “the best,” but that’s a discussion for another day.)
  • I’ll owe you a financial update while I’m on vacation, so here’s the gist: May was my highest-earning month EVER. I brought in $13,311 in freelancing income and $14.51 in publishing revenue. I also got a $1,337.74 tax refund I wasn’t expecting because it turns out I did my taxes wrong (long story, can tell you when I get back if you want, good to know the IRS keeps an eye out for your mistakes). Current net worth is $116,293.34.
  • However, this vacation is going to cost me roughly $4,500 in unearned freelance income (which is to say that if I weren’t going on vacation and were able to complete my usual schedule of work, I’d earn $4,500 over the next two weeks). This is in addition to the $2,200 budgeted for the Disney trip and the $1,100 budgeted for the family trip. Soooooooooo…. actually, I’m fine with this. Paid time off is great, but I’d rather be a freelancer any day of the week. (Including the vacation days.)

See you all in June! ❤️

*Yes, I did realize that Thursday to Thursday to Thursday is actually two weeks and one day. Bonus!

On Preparing Your Audience for the Experience They Want to Have

Soooooo… as I hinted last week, I’m going to Walt Disney World this summer.

(Technically, since I’m going at the end of May, it’s this spring. But it’s after Memorial Day so most of us will consider it “summer.”)

At first I thought I liked Disney parks (and other amusement parks) because I liked rides; after I made my first solo trip to Disneyland two years ago I realized that I loved the solo Disney experience.

I am not the first person to discover that exploring the parks on your own can be, to borrow Disney’s favorite word, magical.*

I haven’t visited WDW since I went with my family in high school literally twenty years ago (I was seventeen); it’s changed a lot since then. Unlike Disneyland, which you can do on a morning’s notice, Walt Disney World now invites — if not requires — you to plan your vacation several months in advance.

And they guide you through the process in a way that is — did I use the word magical already? — fascinating.


The first step in the typical WDW vacation planning process is choosing a resort hotel. (This step tends to go hand-in-hand with picking the vacation dates, though it’s kind of a chicken-and-egg thing depending on whether you’re more flexible on dates or more flexible on resorts.)

As of this writing, you have thirty-four resort options. Each with a different theme, a specific price point, and the promise of a certain type of experience.

I picked the Port Orleans Riverside resort (which falls in the middle of the price points) because it promised me the experience of elegance combined with nature; I paid $10 extra per night for a garden-view room, and I am already fantasizing about the walking trails.

Port Orleans Riverside is also one of the quieter resorts (it literally has “quiet pools” that are separate from the big waterslide pool where you take the kids, which is in turn very far away from the hotel rooms), so it also promises the experience of being able to retreat and relax after the excitement of the parks.

And, to ensure I get to fulfill that promise of retreating and relaxing and rejuvenating myself amidst all this elegance and nature, I booked a stay long enough to allow me to enjoy both the parks and the resort.

So Disney makes even more money off my visit.**

Win-win.

Once you take care of that hotel booking, you get to start making dining reservations. You can make these reservations 180 days in advance. This is where the typical vacationer starts heading down one of four paths:

  1. “Nope, we’re bringing our own food into the park” (a perfectly viable option)
  2. “Whatever, we’ll figure it out when we get there” (also viable, but it means you and your traveling party won’t be able to get into any of the most popular restaurants)
  3. “Wow, there are a lot of restaurants, this Be Our Guest place sounds good, let’s just pick that one” (totally acceptable)
  4. “I AM GOING TO LOOK AT EVERY RESTAURANT AND EVERY MENU BEFORE I DECIDE” (that one’s me)

Notice how each person and/or traveling party is beginning to refine the experience they want.

Also pay attention to the way that Disney is providing its guests with entertainment — because a lot of us consider shopping and planning and thinking about where we might like to eat entertainment — a full six months before we set foot on resort property.

This entertainment, in the form of choice-making and experience-refinement, proceeds at regular intervals. At 60 days out, resort guests can begin selecting FastPasses (to get a shorter wait on certain rides). Guests that want the best options can set their alarms to 7 a.m. Eastern on their 60-day mark, so they can book at the first possible moment. All of this is exciting and novel and full of possibility.

And then the customized MagicBands arrive. In a beautiful box, in the mail.

And then it’s close enough to your vacation that you can contact your resort to request the individual room or block of rooms you want, if you’re so far down the mouse hole that you’ve researched individual rooms. (That is also me. I am going to make that call. Apparently they try to honor as many requests as possible.)

And during all of this time you’ve probably been buying special clothes to wear on your trip or thinking about the souvenirs you might buy on your trip or drooling over photos of donuts and Dole Whips on Instagram. Maybe you just rewatched The Princess and the Frog because Port Orleans Riverside is Princess and the Frog-themed and you want to make sure to catch all the visual references. Maybe you’re going to watch James Cameron’s Avatar for the first time because you want to ride Flight of Passage.

Etc.

By the time you make your trip, you’ve already been experiencing your Disney vacation for months.


Sooooo…. what does any of this have to do with our creative work?

This:

That kind of tweet serves four purposes:

  1. It presents an honest depiction of what it takes to draft a novel.
  2. It encourages other writers who might be considering drafting a novel.
  3. It begins to prepare readers for the experience they might get with this particular novel. This is a book for people who know what a tetromino is (or who are willing to look it up).
  4. It gets those readers excited about the possibility of having that experience with this novel.

Not everybody is going to be part of your readership or audience, just like not everybody is going to enjoy a week at a Disney resort.

But for those people who are part of your audience, well… let’s just say that I am currently studying the Disney method of bringing you into the experience months before the experience actually begins.***

Because I know I’ll learn something from it. ❤️

*One of the reasons I like going to Disney parks alone is because it is one of the few experiences that feels like the type of immersive exploration you get to do in video games. If you want to wander down some path and see where it leads, you can. If you want to follow the fastest route to the scariest ride first, you can. If you want to sit and enjoy the sensory detail, you can. (You could do a lot of this at any standard nature path for free, but those tend not to have rides. Or soundtracks. Or detailed walkthroughs with six pages of hints and secrets.)

**Arguably Disney would have made just the same amount of money whether I had booked a four-night stay or a six-night stay; they could have sold those other two nights to someone else, after all.

***Yes, I know that Disney is not the only entity to use this technique. Every author with a cover reveal, every movie with a cast reveal and then a poster reveal and then a trailer, etc. etc. etc. does this. But Disney does it exceptionally well.